Players know or sense that the manager or head coach is on his way and, consciously or unconsciously, take their foot off the pedal and drop standards.
Even the great Sir Alex Ferguson wasn’t immune as his early, later reversed, announcement in 2001 that he would be leaving Manchester United led to a slump. When he finally did go 12 years later it was only after a 13th league title and 38th trophy for United was in the bag.
The future of Glasgow Warriors coach Dave Rennie has been much talked about of late, with links to both the Australia and New Zealand jobs. He revealed yesterday that he has addressed his players at Scotstoun to discuss the situation after previously stating that he will “definitely” see out the last season of his contract.
He will then move on to pastures new. Asked if he feared that may lead to a loss of focus in his charges, the Kiwi was emphatic.
“Well, if they want to play... They should know from the last couple of years that you’ve got to play well and you’ve got to train well if you want to play at the weekend,” he said. “They are good men who are desperate to do well.
“I’ve addressed the guys because there has been so much speculation, just to say that the only contract I’ve got at the moment is Glasgow and that’s my focus.”
Rennie was speaking in Cardiff at the launch of the Heineken Champions Cup and expressed excitement at having a third crack at what he views as the best club competition in the world.
Now entering its 25th staging – Toulouse beat Cardiff in the first final at the old Arms Park back in 1996 – the tournament has made staggering progress in the past quarter-of-a-century and will begin all over again next weekend on the journey to finals weekend in Marseille next May.
French legend Emile Ntamack, who lifted the inaugural trophy for Toulouse, was in attendance to offer memories of that day but Scots need no reminding of the brutally tough nature of Europe’s elite competition.
In the past 24 stagings, Scottish teams have only reached the quarter-finals on five occasions – Edinburgh three times and Glasgow twice.
After both lost in the last eight last season, Rennie’s Warriors are the sole torch-bearers this time around and face another stern challenge to progress from a section which contains English Premiership runners-up Exeter Chiefs, French Top 14 side La Rochelle and Sale Sharks.
“It’s a tough comp, there’s no doubt,” said Rennie. “We had a really tough pool in my first year – Leinster were in that and they went on to win it.
“We had Saracens in our pool last year. We managed to squeak through. It doesn’t get much easier with the pool we have this year. We’re desperate to get back to the knockout stages and once you’re there you’ve just got to be your best team for 80 minutes. We’ll certainly give it a crack – we’re very keen to build on last year.”
Glasgow open with an English double-header, hosting Sale at Scotstoun in next Saturday’s 1pm kick-off before heading to Exeter the following weekend for an early reunion with full-back Stuart Hogg.
The Greater Manchester side are back in the top-tier competition for the first time since 2012-13 and Rennie is anticipating a tough opener despite the fact Sale’s director of rugby Steve Diamond was insisting yesterday that their World Cup final trio of Springboks scrum-half Faf de Klerk and England flankers Tom Curry and Mark Wilson won’t play in the Scotstoun showdown.
“That will be nice of him,” said Rennie with a smile. “They have recruited a lot of African meats. They are a damn good side, especially up front. They have been pretty innovative over the past couple of years. We expect them to come up and have a real crack.
“They have been knocking on the door in Europe. They were really close [to qualifying for the Champions Cup] the year before. We have a few more guys back this week to get some footy back into them.”
Rennie expects to be as fully loaded as possible with his returning World Cup players, with the exception of lock Jonny Gray who has been given an extended six-week break. The coach gave an encouraging update on scrum-half Ali Price, whose World Cup was ended by a foot fracture in the opening loss to Ireland, but said the Sale game should be too soon for his comeback.
“We have everyone available except for Jonny Gray. Ali is close but probably won’t be available in time,” said Rennie.
The 2019-20 Heineken Champions Cup kicks off next Friday with the Pool 5 clash between Gloucester and French champions and inaugural competition winners Toulouse at Kingsholm.